How to Care for Musk Turtle: Everything You Need to Know

Looking for a small freshwater turtle to have as a pet? Enter the world of musk turtles!
Belonging to the genus Sternotherus, musk turtle refers to one of the four small turtle species that thrive in freshwater. They are highly-aquatic, although they are also sometimes found on land. These turtles are commonly found in North America and Canada.

Physical Characteristics

Musk turtles are known for being small. The most popular from this family is the common musk turtle, which has an approximate length of two to five inches. The shell is usually black or dark brown. The latter is often mottled or streaked, which is a result of the formation of algae.
Meanwhile, the head of the common musk turtle has two parallel yellow stripes. They extend from the nose to its neck. As the turtle becomes older, the color of the stripes tends to fade.


Because they are aquatic, musk turtles spend most of their time in the water, including ponds and creeks. The female turtles usually just go to the land when it is time to lay their eggs. They can also climb in trees that are partially submerged in the water. They are slow-paced and known for being walkers and poor swimmers.
The most notable behavior of the musk turtle is its defense mechanism. Once it feels threatened, it releases a liquid from its musk glands. The foul smell of the liquid is its greatest defense tactic to avoid being disturbed. This is also the reason why this type of turtle is also known as stinkpot.


In the wild, musk turtles are naturally found in wetland habitats. While they are common in waterways, because they swim poorly, and they walk slowly under the water, they prefer slow-moving and calm bodies of water, especially those with a calm ground. They cannot tolerate brackish water unlike the case of a mud turtle. During the winter, a musk turtle spends its time buried in the mud.
If you are going to have a musk turtle as a pet, you need to recreate an ideal environment for it to survive. Among others, one of the most important is the housing. There should be a turtle tank to provide the enclosure. The width of the tank should be at least 600 mm and the turtles should be submerged in water since they are aquatic.
The habitat of the turtle should also be designed in such a way that it can move out of the water and bask when needed. Because there is no sun, it will be good to use a lamp. One of the best examples of the latter is the

Exo Terra Intense Basking Spot Lamp

It has 150 watts of power and will be more than enough to increase the ambient temperature in the terrarium.
Because they spend most of their time in the water, owners of musk turtles should also pay attention to making sure that the water is clean. It should be treated to remove chlorine. On average, the water temperature should be 25 degrees Celsius. When it comes to the treatment of water, one product worth checking out is the

Zoo Med ReptiSafe Instant Terrarium Water Conditioner

Which can remove chlorines, chloramines, and heavy metals in the water.
It is also recommended that you have a bare bottom tank. However, if you decide to have substrates, opt for large gravel. Take note that these turtles are slow walkers, so you need to provide a ground where they can easily walk.
Decoration for their habitat is also important, not only for the purpose of aesthetics but to also provide them with an area for basking. Large pebbles and artificial plants will be good to have in the terrarium.

Foods and Vitamins

Musk turtles are carnivorous. Their food consists mostly of invertebrates that can be found in their aquatic habitat. Often, they eat snails, freshwater clams, crawfish, carrion, leeches, insects, shrimp, and tadpoles. They also eat aquatic plants, although this is more common for those who are already adults. Often, the hatchlings have a more carnivorous diet.
As pets, you will have a wide range of options when it comes to what to feed your turtle. Bloodworms, cricket, shrimps, and earthworms are some of the best foods that you can give to your pet musk turtle. The older ones can also be fed plant matter.
It is also important to feed the turtles with Vitamins A and D3. With the latter, one of the perfect products worth considering is the

Zoo Med Reptile Calcium

The latter is a supplement that is a must-have for turtles that require D3 for the assimilation of calcium.

Health Problems

As it is common with other captive turtles, your pet can suffer from deficiencies of Vitamins A and E. This is especially true if the turtle is used to a high-protein diet. This makes it important to provide them with supplemental calcium. Feeding them with duckweed and water lettuce will also help, despite the fact that they are carnivorous.

Other Tips for Taking Care of Musk Turtle

Aside from those that have been already discussed above, below are other things that can be done to take care of a musk turtle if you are having it as a pet:

  • It is advised that you do not put two male musk turtles together in one tank. If you have a male and female musk turtle together in a tank, watch out for their behavior. When one starts showing signs of aggressiveness, take it out of the tank.
  • Be careful when handling musk turtles. At times, they can be aggressive and attempt to bite you. Be as gentle as possible when holding it. Your fingers should be placed at the rear of its carapace.
  • Pay attention to the frequency at which they are fed. Musk turtles that are less than six months should eat twice in a day. Those who are more than six months, on the other hand, should eat once a day.